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Cornaline de l’Inde

Valentine Roux

IV. Applications archéologiques

9. Importation of carnelians and agates from Indus to Mesopotamia: the cases of Suse and Tello

Marie-Louise Inizan

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1Abstract. Carnelians and agates first appear very discreetly in the Orient in the form of small beads during the Late Neolithic, around the seventh millennium in central Asia and Turkey. They are unanimously recognized, along with lapis lazuli, as precious stones, or even prestige items, in the early Orient of Mesopotamia, especially at the end of the third millennium, even though this region is devoid of mineral resources.

2The long Harappan beads and beads with white decoration, both characteristic of the apogee of the Indus civilization, show clearly marked origins. But what about the other, less rare types of beads? Do they have the same origins? Where are the workshops at which they were produced? Technological analysis of the Cambay workshops was a determining factor in the characterization of archaeological bead assemblages in terms of techniques and expertise levels. This allowed us to infer possible production locations, skill levels and circulation networks. It also led to the association within the same production of all chalcedony and hard-stone objects (such as rock crystal): beads, seals, weights, etc. Two archaeological collections were analyzed: Tello (600 beads) and Suse (2,000 beads). Both of these collections are conserved at the Louvre museum.

3Transformation through heating is indispensable in order to chip and polish microfibrous stones, and to achieve orange and red colorations. Based on data fom Cambay, heating was recognized in the collections fom Suse and Tello. The geological source of carnelian determines its quality (color, translucence) and quantity, both of which are indispensable for the development and transmission of a high technical skill level. Based on these observations, the beads from Tello and Suse were classified according to three levels. The first group, which is very limited in number, is represented by the long “classic” Harappan beads (20) and the beads with white decoration (11). This group is characteristic of Indus workshops, such as Chanhu-Daro. The second group consists of medium-sized beads, up to 3 cm long (around 50 at Tello and the majority at Suse). These beads are biconical, spheroid and ellipsoid. The raw materials and polishing are of a high quality, and the origins of the beads are found outside Mesopotamia, essentially in the Indus region. The last group, by far the most numerous, is comprised of small, disc-shaped beads. These could have been fabricated on site in Mesopotamia since they do not necessitate a high skill level and weigh less than 300grams. In the collection from Suse, a small assemblage of pieces attests to inferior-quality knapping on the site, which does not correspond to the quality of the overall assemblage of beads. Workshops containing beads corresponding to the second and third groups also exist on the Iranian plateau (Shadad). These workshops could have been in competition with the Indus workshops, during the entire fourth and first half of the third millennium, for the provisioning of Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, from the beginning of the third millennium, and especially during its second half, carnelian and agate beads were fabricated in the Indus workshops and circulated by a maritime route all along the Persian Gulf toward Mesopotamia. This is evidenced by hundreds of beads discovered in rich collective, Bronze-Age tombs at Hili and Abu Dhabi. We can also note the quasi absence of lapis lazuli beads in the Gulf.

© Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2000

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